Is ad-blocking on mobile a threat to the industry?

As Adblock Plus rolls out its first mobile browser, will it hold back advertisers' efforts in this arena? By Gurjit Degun.

Mobile usage is increasing rapidly and with it comes the rise of ad-blocking technology – something that could have a negative impact on advertisers and media owners.

Mobile adspend has doubled in the past year to surpass £1 billion and account for £1 in every £6 spent on digital advertising, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau. Coupled with the packed conference centre for the organisation’s Mobile Engage event two weeks ago, it’s clear that mobile is big business, and advertisers and agencies are serious about pushing brands further in this space. But, at the same time, we can’t ignore the frustrated consumer – no-one wants an ad slowing down their web browsing.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the number of people using ad-blocking technology is rising sharply. Two of the most popular, Adblock Plus and AdBlock, have been downloaded more than 348 million times.

Ad-blocking on mobile hit headlines last week when Adblock Plus announced plans to launch its first mobile browser, which it claims will save up to 23 per cent of a smartphone’s battery life. Mobile operators in Europe are also looking to install ad-blocking technology.

It’s a worry for advertisers, according to Bob Wootton, the director of media and advertising at ISBA. He adds: "Equally troubling is the way some of the big players are promising a way through ad-blocking to leverage their market share."

Wootton thinks the industry can be "too clumsy and overly intrusive in the way it uses online channels" – and this is "unsustainable".

Surely this is an opportunity for adland to start producing mobile ads that aren’t intrusive? When was the last time someone said: "Did you see that great mobile ad?"

Neil Ramsden, the commercial director at Lowe Profero, does not think ad-blocking is necessarily a threat but agrees media owners need to make sure ads are mobile-optimised.

However, Ramsden adds that Google’s move to prioritise mobile-optimised sites when people search on mobile should give media owners the kick they need to make sure users aren’t getting irritated by slow-loading ads.

YES Steve Chester, director of data and industry programmes, IAB

"Advertising helps to fund content, services and apps, making it available to people at little or no cost. Restricting it could deny citizens access to these services, giving less choice, as well as acting as a barrier to innovation."

MAYBE Mark Smith, head of display, Maxus

"Mass ad-blocking has the potential to stifle innovation, advertiser opportunity and content quality. Our industry will create new ways of reaching audiences and delivering messages. We’ve evolved before and can do so again."

NO Ben Kerr, chief strategy officer, Somethin' Else

"A mobile is a smart computer. What a waste of processing power to rely on ads to change behaviour when there is content that adds value to the user experience. Ad-blocking technology challenges the industry to be more creative."

MAYBE Dan Clays, managing director, OMD UK

"Ad revenue is critical to help fund the creation of much of the content people will want to consume on mobile. It places the spotlight on creating quality ad formats that are intrinsic and intuitive to the mobile user experience."

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